The head of the House subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism is on a quest to find out precisely how much money YouTube, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter are spending each to combat extremism across their myriad platforms. Since representatives of the companies seemed unequipped to answer that question during a briefing late last month, their CEOs are now being asked to cough up those figures.
Representative Max Rose, who chairs the subcommittee, sent a letter on Thursday to each of the four companies asking for among other details their annual budgets for counter-terrorism efforts and related programs, “expressed as absolute numbers as well as percentages of your company’s total annual operating budget.”
“We’ve seen in graphic detail the extent that terrorist organisations and extremists have used social media to amplify their reach and message in recent years,” he said. “While social media companies tell us they’re taking this seriously, I want to see the numbers to back that up—and won’t stop until we get answers.”
The letter also requests the number of employees dedicated solely to countering terrorists, including, it says, domestic terrorists, far-right extremists, and white supremacists, who’ve “made use of online platforms to connect with like-minded individuals and spread their ideologies.”
The letter is cosigned by Representatives Shiela Jackson Lee, James, Langevin, and Elissa Slotkin, each of whom also serves on the subcommittee.
“As you all know, a budget is a statement of values,” the letter continues. “We believe that the level of resources your companies allocate to containing and combating online terrorist content is a reflection of the seriousness with which you are approaching this issue.”
The letter also cites a number of incidents involving acts of terrorism committed by people who first posted hateful content online, including the terrorist behind the Christchurch massacres in New Zealand that resulted in 50 dead, another 50 injured; the far-right extremist who mailed pipebombs to Democratic politicians and journalists last year; and an anti-Semitic terrorist who murdered 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, who regularly posted on the alt-right platform Gab.
“From the rise and spread of ISIS, to the recent attack in Christchurch, New Zealand which was livestreamed live on Facebook, serious questions remain as to how and what the companies are doing to combat the spread of terrorism and extremism,” Rose said.